Next up on the trope hit list: Forced Proximity.
Although I love this trope—and its cousins, fake relationship and marriage of convenience—I don’t really like the name. Stuck Together sounds better, whether the situation is forced or not, and I do love writing couples who are stuck together—just ask Marc and Henry!
The Counting series began as a single short story I wrote for a submission call. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was supposed to be a holiday story. So, I wrote about two colleagues who get stuck roadside during a blizzard on Christmas Eve. Their flight was cancelled, so they rented a car. Then, when they hit a GPS blind spot, somewhere in upstate New York, snow started to fall. In minutes, the storm was thick enough to obscure the road and their view. They pulled over to wait it out.
Because Counting Fence Posts is a short novella, trapping the two main characters in a very small space serves as a fine shortcut to intimacy. But they couldn’t be strangers—not for my purposes. So, Henry is written with a preexisting crush on Marc, one he’s nursed for a while now. But he thinks Marc was straight. Also, Marc is kind of a dick. Turns out, Marc is harboring a crush, too, one he hasn’t dared entertain. Because he’s straight, right?
I never intended to write more than one story for Henry and Marc—but the chance to get into Marc’s head proved too much to resist, so I wrote a follow-up super short story where the pair spent Christmas Day together. Then Marc invited Henry to a party on New Year’s Eve and the temptation to trap them somewhere was irresistible. The series continued until I had four novellas and two short stories, many of which feature Marc and Henry stuck together in situations that force closeness. The trope—and their relationship—would never have worked without their mutual attraction, though, and a willingness on the part of each to take a chance.
Many of my favourite stories (and series) are the ones I wrote on a whim, because a prompt or call for submissions sparked something, and I had the time to indulge. More often, though, a story will emerge from my own thoughts about life, aging, and a heavy dollop of what if.
Out In the Blue is the story of Jared, who approaching his forty-fifth birthday, suffers a panic attack. It’s not that he’s getting old, it’s more a feeling of being on one of those paddle boats, where the feet churn and churn and little progress is made. So he decides to do something about it and book a hiking trip with a company that caters to the LGBTQ crowd. On the first day, he meets Fin, and over the course of three days, time falls into sync for them both. Life slows down.
I adore the romance in this story—the flirtation between Jared and Fin, their growing attraction, and eventual connection. I shed actual tears while writing their pillow talk. But my favourite scene in the book by far is the one where Jared reaches the top of a mountain:
After an hour of huffing and puffing and two false summits, they finally reached the peak of Mount Tammany. While the elevation barely scraped a thousand and a half feet—a thousand feet more than the town they’d spent the night in—the view was spectacular. Jared could see the interstate snaking into New Jersey, the river curving south. Though he’d probably see more from the window of a plane, he preferred being on the ground. The scent of old, mulched leaves filled his senses, as did the pride of having accomplished something, even if it had been a relatively tame ascent. He’d climbed a hill. He’d walked for two and a half days without collapsing in a heap, and he’d climbed a mountain.
I love this feeling. It’s why I hike and why I so often choose a hike that includes a peak because there is nothing quite like emerging from the forest and climbing up that last hill. The view from the top is spectacular and when I climb a mountain, I always start to feel a little less stuck. I think that was the point for Jared. He and Fin might never have connected the way they did after three days of hiking in each other’s company and sharing a room at night, but what they both really needed was a way to tear free of their old lives, and that was just what they did.
To See the Sun features heavily in this series of posts because it includes so many of my favourite tropes:
- Relationship of convenience: In order to escape his current situation, Gael creates a profile on a matching service and catches the eye of Bram, who is essentially looking for a mail-order spouse. Oh, deliciousness!
- Forced proximity: Bram lives at the ass end of the galaxy on a planet that’s barely colonized. Further, his farm is hours away from the only town and situated halfway down a massive gorge in a strictly limited habitable zone. Descend too far and the gas oozing out of the planet’s core will choke you. Climb too high and the sun will fry you. It’s the ultimate stuck-together situation. They literally cannot go anywhere else.
- Friends to lovers: I’ve never been good at writing the sorts of stories where a couple fall into bed together only hours (or minutes) after they meet. I have done it once (Uncommon Ground); it was fun! But I generally prefer a slow-burn romance, which usually means my couples become friends before they become lovers. I adore the getting to know you phase. I think it’s my favourite thing about writing romance—all the scenes where two people figure each other out while that initial buzz of attraction deepens into an all-consuming burn.
I also played with fish out of water, power imbalances, jealous ex-lovers, and turned a few things upside down, such as Gael and Bram’s expected roles in their relationship. And then I added a kid and some serious adventure just to mix things up. At its heart, though, To See the Sun is perhaps one of the most romantic books I’ve ever written.
It was also the ultimate “write what you want to read” project for me. I love the idea of mixing my favourite romance tropes with my favourite sorts of adventure: the space western and I have plans to write several more stories in this same universe.